In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. Ruth 1:1-2

Can you recall the absolute worst season of your life? Do you remember how overwhelmed you felt, how exhausted you were, and how unsure you were if your future would ever get any better?

That’s exactly the kind of season in which the book of Ruth begins. Ruth opens with the devastating combination of a free-for-all, famine, and failure. Historically, the events of Ruth occurred in the days of the judges, roughly 1200–1020 BC—between the time of Joshua’s death (Judges 1:1) and the coronation of Saul as king (1 Samuel 10). According to the book of Judges, it was a lengthy season of horrible sin and evil among God’s people that included what the New Testament calls worldliness, or sin, among the lives of God’s people who had a greater appetite for sex, wealth, and comfort than they had for Him.

This season included only a handful of exceptions such as Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah. Judges 21:25 tells us, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” This means that Israel was the equivalent of a godless and lawless riot. To make matters worse, there was an extended famine in Bethlehem, a place that literally means “house of bread.” This was likely a judgment from God (2 Kings 8:1; Isaiah 3:1; Jeremiah 14:13–18; Amos 4:6).

To make matters worse, a man failed to lead his family wisely and as a result added to their tragedy and misery. Elimelech, whose name means “God is my king,” ironically lived without much faith in the sovereign God he professed to worship. Rather than dealing with the underlying spiritual causes for the trials of life, Elimelech foolishly chose to move his entire family to Moab.

Moab was considered a godless place because its citizens descended from Moab, who was the result of incest between the wicked Lot and his own daughter (Genesis 19:30–38). The Hebrews had ongoing hostility with the Moabites throughout their history, in large part because they worshiped a false God named Chemosh rather than Yahweh (Numbers 21:29; 1 Kings 11:7). Tragically, in the example of Elimelech, we see how a man, as the head of his home, can impact his entire family and generations to come with the decisions, good and bad, that he makes.

  • Ruth begins with an honest look at a painful season in the life of Naomi and Ruth. Have you ever had a season like theirs where maybe you had financial troubles, lost a loved one, or had to move?
  • What is a man’s job description in leading the home, and where did Elimelech and his sons fall short? See 1 Timothy 5:8, 2 Corinthians 6:14, and Ephesians